Day 13: Day Two in Yellowstone.
Our plan for the day was to sightsee along the “upper loop” of the figure 8. We headed left out of the campground, and boom! BISON.
That was from the car.
We could probably have spent hours there watching them and photographing them, but Mammoth Hot Springs seemed a long way away, so we continued on our route.
Here’s something I didn’t know to think about: road construction. After we started onto a part of the road we hadn’t been on the day before, we found ourselves in road construction, and how. There were two parts that were one lane roads, which meant we had to wait on a flagger. One of them we waited for a very long time. Our day was not looking up to be very exciting, as mostly we seemed to be waiting in traffic.
Finally we were clear of it all and able to make a few stops.
Some scary roads, but really great engineering!
Oh, and we learned that not everything that has a stripe down its back is a chipmunk. We learned this the awkward way, by arguing with another couple…so ground squirrels don’t have stripes on their faces, only their backs, and chipmunks have them all the way up. Good to know. It was even more awkward when we ran into them at the next stop, after having checked our field guide and verified…oh yes, they were correct.
Anyway. We finally got to Mammoth, and parked at the Upper Terrace parking lot.
I’ve read that people didn’t like Mammoth as well as other places. It wasn’t the case for me: I was simply blown away by this area. And like the other thermal features, the springs here are constantly moving and changing, even from day-to-day. I found the entire experience to be fascinating…the way that the water trickles and makes these crazy looking terraces and steps, and how it happens gradually over time.
The trees especially are interesting, how the springs just take over and kill the tree, but the tree often just remains standing. What a funny planet we live on.
We followed along the boardwalks, heading down to the Lower Terrace eventually. It was a hotter day than we had experienced since leaving Boulder, so I was definitely glad I’d brought my backpack with the water in it.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, we decided to walk over to the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor’s Center. There’s a little village around there, with a hotel, restaurants, and even some private homes, which I guess are from quite some time ago. Creating the National Parks sometimes meant that land was already “owned” before the park was created, I guess.
I paused here in my writing and did some internet research on this, but didn’t get very far. I know our maps and guidebook said there were private homes there, but as to who owns them, I couldn’t find out. Or maybe private as in, not open to tourists but people who work at the parks live in them. That might make more sense. I just don’t know!
We saw this elk hanging out at the terraces of a spring that is currently not active. That could change at any time though!
We decided to get lunch at the “Terrace Grill” which was really just a fast food restaurant. We hadn’t eaten out for some time and the thought of making another pbj wasn’t super appealing to us. We got fish sandwiches, black bean burgers, fries, salad, and fruit. The whole thing was fine, and more expensive that anywhere NOT in a park, but totally fine. It made me sad for people who didn’t have picnic lunches most days though, and I was glad that mostly we didn’t have to eat the National Park food! It was a nice change for lunch though, and the coffee was pretty good too.
After lunch we had to walk back UP from the Lower Terrace to the Upper Terrace, to where our car was parked. This would have been a nicer walk if it weren’t so darned hot!
But we made it back, and then did a quick little drive through a loop of MORE springs.
All in all, I found Mammoth Hot Springs to be really interesting and unique, of course!
Next our plan was to continue along the upper loop, but we actually took a wrong turn out of Mammoth and headed into Montana for a bit, BUT it worked out well because we saw more elk! I didn’t get pictures of too many, but we saw dozens of them.
We found our way back to Mammoth then, and had to do mildly annoying things like drain the cooler, get more ice, that sort of thing. Camping is hard work sometimes! And then more sights…the afternoon wasn’t super exciting, but we saw a few neat things.
For instance, the Petrified Tree. Right before this we took an ill-advised drive on a gravel road—it was one-way, and right after the turn we realized we shouldn’t have done it but it was too late. So we got to the Petrified Tree and were tired and exhausted and SOO hot…and it was a petrified tree in a cage! Evidently there used to be two, but people stole the other one in bits over time (this is why we can’t have nice things) so they put a fence around it. Evidently there are also a few more but it’s an unmarked path to find them.
Our next big stop was Tower Fall. It was a neat little stop with a general store and crowded parking lot. The north part of Yellowstone had a different feel from the southern part, and was definitely less crowded overall, by the way.
I guess in other years there is a hike down to see Tower Fall from the bottom, but that hike was closed for reconstruction. We did a little hike down to the river….but the trail ended before we were all the way down. There was a sign saying basically, proceed at your own risk. Which was ridiculous in a way, since all hikes are at your own risk!
I made it down to the river though! It’s not a great drinking water area though, since there is so much sulfur around…
The bad part about hiking down into a canyon of sorts is that the hard part is the way back. We decided ice cream was in order at the top! Then it was more driving, some real mountain driving, which Louie loves and I’m terrified by! We got out at a ton of overlooks. There was a lot of this sort of landscape, with trees that were fire damaged (1988 fires, I believe) and the new growth around them. This went on for miles and miles.
Finally we were getting back to the Mud Volcano area from the day before, and we got stuck in some horrible traffic. After 30-45 minutes of barely moving, we finally saw what seemed to be the reason…
Many, many bison, slowly crossing the road and taking their darned time. I believe we were stuck in a good old-fashioned bison jam! It was entertaining ONLY after we were able to see the bison!
We stopped near Lake Yellowstone to watch the sunset on our last night here.
I’m a little sad looking at these pictures! It was so beautiful there…my mom was surprised I guess, reading my blog, (hi Mom!) by how much I loved Yellowstone. I just felt that it was so full of different things, animals and beauty and desolation, all together…just one of the most unique places on earth.
Day 14: Day 3 in Yellowstone
We had to pack up our campsite that morning. So the last thing we felt we needed to do was to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Since we had mostly been in the car the past two days, Louie and I decided to take a hike. I found one in my book that was a loop with the South Rim of the Canyon, so we headed out! We ran into a few bison on the way to the Canyon, but traffic was light enough that it wasn’t an issue.
We kept thinking that we were “over” the bison, but for me, every time I saw them up close I was really excited. They are such magnificent creatures and a testament to how we CAN turn things around…at one point they were nearly extinct.
The first thing we saw when we found the trail was a bald eagle. Just staring at me before it flew away. I did not get a picture, but I can picture him in my head!
And…Yellowstone. The reason for the park’s name!
We decided to go down Uncle Tom’s Trail. It was a series of 700 million steps. Well, 328 metal steps that go down to the bottom of the falls. It was horrible. I nearly had a panic attack on more than one occasion. I guess I’m proud that I made it, but I honestly didn’t enjoy any part of the trail, so I won’t do that one again! Louie really liked it, I think. Silly man!
The South Rim Trail basically followed along to a variety of viewpoints that one could drive to, but instead we walked and enjoyed the beautiful scenery all along the way AND didn’t have to deal with parking.
We got rained on a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad. We had rain jackets (well, I did, and Louie had an emergency poncho with him.)
Just to mention safety: we had bear spray and we tried to keep talking or making noises the whole way. It’s tough because you hate to scare off wildlife…but you would hate to sneak up on a bear! We didn’t see any bear scat, so I don’t know what we would have done if we did.
Just amazing views the whole way. Louie kept standing near the edge to take pictures and on occasion I had to look away. I’m sure he was being careful and safe, but I have a huge fear of people falling.
And then the path turned away from the canyon, and we walked by a lake called Lily Pad Lake.
And the trail headed by some paint pots and other thermal activity, no boardwalks, just out in the middle of the woods! How cool is that!!
And to this green pond, called Clear Lake, that is DEFINITELY not okay to drink out of.
I loved this hike. LOVED it. We had been surrounded by so many people since getting to Yellowstone and while yes, we passed quite a few people hiking, it was far fewer, and we really did feel like we had our own private little bits of Yellowstone for awhile. Private thermal activity and private green lakes. I loved it.
After Clear Lake the hike headed through a sagebrush field and back to the trailhead. We saw something from a distance that might have been a rock or a bison, and we just couldn’t decided, but finally when it rolled over playfully we knew which it was.
We made peanut butter sandwiches at the car and then headed north. We had decided we would take the Northeast exit out of Yellowstone to the Beartooth Highway and wanted to be on our way. I didn’t have a reservation for us on this night. Well, I kind of did…originally we’d thought of going to Cody and I’d tried to reserve something there but the place I reserved a cabin at wanted us to call by 3 pm if we weren’t there and I knew that wouldn’t work, since we didn’t have service! So they gave it away, which is silly. How could we call coming from Yellowstone where there was no cell service? We didn’t have service until nearly 5 pm. Oh well.
On our way out of the park we went by Lamar Valley, another place where wildlife and BISON are plentiful.
Those brown dots are bison, grazing all over.
Another awesome thing that I don’t have a picture of (but Louie does, he needs to share!) is: we were driving and the car in front of us suddenly stopped….and we saw a black bear running up a hill to our left! Louie got a picture of the tail end of it running. So we were thrilled that we got to see a bear up close…and safely from the car!
So that was Yellowstone…someday I will return!
To be continued…